Words in the dark

This 500-word short has become a favorite of readers over the years. It’s been at home here, since my website’s creation. It was even rumored to have been published in a ‘zine years back. (I never saw a contributor’s copy or proof, thereof.) I included it in my story collection NIGHTMARES AND OTHER VICES, Volume 1. I keep it here where we can all read it. All of us alive, and in other states.

 

The Little Girl and the Shadow(s)

or

Darby’s Lament

by

Bruce S.Larson

Noise. Beth awoke. A dragon charged down the hill outside. Its roar was the angry shouts of people pierced by howling dogs. But dragons didn’t exist. The roar died away. A presence remained. A breeze rippled the curtains. Beth noticed a very dark shadow against the wall. This shadow looked back at her. Beth clutched her doll and looked away. Her heartbeat fluttered her nightdress. She pulled Darby the bear from under the pillow. The shadow did not move. It seemed afraid of the street light bleeding in rigid streams through the curtains. Soon, Beth began to play quietly on her sheets.

“Your doll is very pretty. What is her name?” The shadow’s voice was a soft whisper.

Beth paused. Her fear ebbed to wary acceptance. “Mae,” she offered coyly. “She’s angry.”

“Oh, dear. Why?”

“Darby takes up too much room.” Beth plunked the bear on her lap. “Mae wants to sleep with me by herself.”

“There seems to be room on either side of you.” The shadow offered. “Perhaps each could have its own space.”

“No. Mae doesn’t want Darby here at all.” Beth voiced the doll’s case like a prosecutor.

“Then perhaps Darby should eat Mae.”

Beth found the idea bizarre. Teddy bears didn’t eat anything, did they?

“But they’re friends.” Beth retorted.

“Then they should cooperate. Their universe is only a small bed, with a child for a god.”

Beth did not understand. Perhaps the shadow would explain. It moved closer, and had form now. It was a lady with dark, dark eyes and needles where her teeth should be. But she was nice. More importantly, she was willing to play with Beth. Darby and Mae liked her, too.

Suddenly a fist thrust through the curtains holding a brilliant white flare. The noise of the dragon roared behind it with a thousand angry eyes. Beth screamed. The shadow lady shrieked and writhed against the wall. Her sharp fingers slashed at the torch. A man screamed and the torch went away. Beth’s mother threw open the bedroom door and reached for her. A living tornado of yelling people knocked her aside. They ripped Beth’s new friend from the wall. She shrieked and snapped her sharp teeth. A leather hood swallowed her head as they tugged her away. Deacon Murray followed the mob, seemingly pulled by their wake. He spouted nervous prayers lost in the verbal carnage. Beth’s father shouted at the mob thundering in the parlor. The shrieking died. There was a horrible smell of something burning, then silence. Father shouted again. Slowly the murmur of the dragon bled back into the street.

Beth collected Mae’s shattered body through her mother’s gripping arms. Darby still lay on the bed. Beth stopped crying. She would rarely ever cry again. She and Darby would stay awake at night for a shadow to visit and play. Years later, Beth ventured into the night itself to search. One night she found a young and very handsome shadow, and left Darby all alone.

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